Former U.S. President Barack Obama talks oil and gas and climate change in Calgary

Former U.S. president Barack Obama spoke to a Calgary audience on Tuesday last week and the local mainstream news media gushed over him, saying he brought “a message of hope and optimism” about “paving the way to a kinder, gentler and cleaner planet” amid his warnings of the importance of making responsible decisions about how to build that future. The 44th President of the United States had sat down with local media celebrity Dave Kelly for ‘A Conversation with Barack Obama’ at the Saddledome.

Mr. Obama credited oil and gas with powering industry and economies, saying: “It’s still the cheapest means for us to power all the things that we do,” but also said, “All of us are going to have to recognize that there are trade-offs involved with how we live, how our economy is structured and the world we are going to be passing on to our kids and to our grandchildren. No one is exempt from that conversation.”

The two-term President, who had denied approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, said that the science is “indisputable that the planet is getting warmer.” He pointed to the need for a plan to transition to new sources of energy and to “clean up old energy sources,” putting full confidence in human ingenuity to make that change. Channeling the disproven Al Gore, Mr. Obama predicted oceans rising several feet, billions of people fleeing coastlines, permafrost melting to release toxic methane gas — even a growing number of moose facing tick-borne diseases they did not have to deal with a decade ago, saying “I really like moose. I assume Canadians do, too.

Thick with condescension and tone-deaf in context of the recession the province has struggled with for several years, Mr. Obama shared his thoughts for Calgarians and Albertans who work in the oil and gas industry: 

If you are a practical person and you, let’s say, work in the oil and gas industry right now and it provides a great living, and you feel like you’re providing a great service. This is critical to the global economy, and you take great pride in your work — you should. But understand that we’re going to have to make some choices one way or another. And either we’re going to do it intentionally and thoughtfully and seriously, or it will happen to us. And by the time it happens to us, it may be too late. And that, I think, is how we have to think about it.

The mainstream news media claimed Mr. Obama’s remarks were “informed by the scientific process” but he pushed a clean energy agenda, highlighting his lack of understanding of the industry and petroleum as a resource. Mr. Obama suggested the efforts in science and engineering used in extracting bitumen and natural gas in Alberta could be used to help find alternative energy solutions:

The same extraordinary engineering and science that’s used at getting at hard oil … the engineering that exists within oil and gas industries, if some of that starts to get invested by those same companies in developing other energy sources, and those engineers and scientists transition into other ways to get us to turn on the lights and get our cars moving — you guys can figure it out, but you have to be open to it.”

Mr. Obama challenged the city’s engineers and scientists to look for new ways to “turn on the lights and get our cars going” by using the same ingenuity they have used in finding new ways to extract oil. “You guys can figure it out, but you’ve got to be open to it,” he added, referring to a former chairman of the environment committee in Washington holding up a snowball on the Senate floor and declaring there is no global warming because it’s cold outside.

Mr. Obama shared the importance of having a variety of perspectives at the table when making important decisions, like he had to do during his first term as president during the Great Recession, saying, “Everybody has blind spots. The benefit of having people from different perspectives around the room is they will fill in, for the group, each other’s blind spots.” Mr. Obama also emphasized the importance of hearing all sides of an issue, as the oil and gas industry aren’t already well versed in consultations and negotiations with stakeholders on every project.

If you want to get something done about climate change, you can’t just be talking with the person who’s driving a Prius and eating quinoa. You have to talk to the guy who’s got a pickup truck and has to drive 30 miles to his job and, as a consequence, the price of gas is relevant to him. If you don’t have a sense of his legitimate concerns, you’re not going to be able to build the kind of coalition that will get something done,” he said. Mr. Obama’s comments were met with applause from the Calgary audience.